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Evo and Hugo’s Revolution

By John Sweeney

10.09.05 | New polling data obtained from sources in La Paz indicates that Bolivian indigenous leader Evo Morales now leads the field of eight formal candidates seeking the presidency of Bolivia in next December’s general elections. Morales is leading the presidential race with 30 percent of the likely vote, while businessman Samuel Doria Medina is running second with 24 percent of the vote. Former President Jorge Quiroga has dropped to third place with 23 percent of the likely vote. Only two months ago, Quiroga was the frontrunner and Morales was in third place

To be elected president of Bolivia, the winning candidate must capture over 50 percent of the vote. If no candidate wins over 50 percent, the election of the president goes to Congress which decides between the two candidates that won the largest number of votes, because Bolivia’s Constitution does not provide for a run-off election. This is what happened in the 2002 presidential elections, when no candidate won over 25 percent of the vote, and Morales placed second in the popular vote right behind former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

In 2002 the U.S. Embassy in La Paz twisted arms behind the scenes in Bolivia’s Congress to forge a political alliance that would ensure that Sanchez de Lozada would be elected president instead of Morales. As a result, Sanchez de Lozada and former President Jaime Paz Zamora of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) are longtime bitter political enemies. However, the MIR aligned itself with Sanchez de Lozada’s Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and the New Republican Force (NFR) of Manfred Reyes Villa, and Morales was left out in the cold.

Morales felt he was cheated out of the presidency due to direct U.S. government interference, and took his supporters into the streets, stoking months of strikes, road blockades and clashes between protesters and government security forces. Ultimately, these violent street tactics paralyzed Bolivia’s economy, increased its political instability and forced the resignation of Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003. Then-Vice President Carlos Mesa assumed the presidency and ruled until June 6, 2005 when he also resigned after months of increasingly violent protests led by Morales and other radical leftist Bolivian highlanders.

The point of this brief historical review is that history could repeat in Bolivia in next December’s presidential elections. Morales has a hardcore political support base equivalent to 25 percent to 30 percent of the voting population. This support base is rooted in ethnic identity. We don’t think Morales can increase his share of the votes to over 50 percent even though close to 60 percent of Bolivia’s population is indigenous. We also doubt that Doria Medina can win 50+1, while Quiroga appears to be out of contention already. This means that Bolivia’s Congress will elect the country’s new president in December 2005.

The political parties that made the biggest congressional gains in the 2002 elections – MIR, NFR and Quiroga’s Nationalist Democratic Action (ADN) party – are expected to do poorly in next December’s elections. Even Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party has lost appeal among voters, if the results of local and regional elections late in 2004 are any indication. As a result, the political makeup of the new Congress that will session in early 2006 cannot be predicted yet, but many analysts in Bolivia believe that the traditional parties – MNR, MIR, ADN – will suffer substantial losses.

Morales is determined to be Bolivia’s next president by hook or crook. If elections were held today he would be the top vote-getter, but the election would still be decided by Congress. However, Morales has the highest negatives in every poll conducted in Bolivia dating back to 2002. Over 65 percent of Bolivians distrust and dislike Morales, and view him as a major cause of their country’s chronic political instability. This means that Morales could win the largest percentage of popular votes and still lose the election in Congress.

However, if Bolivia’s Congress doesn’t elect Morales president of Bolivia, it is absolutely certain that Morales will resume violent public protests. It is vitally important for the successful regional expansion of the Bolivarian Revolution that Bolivia’s next president be Evo Morales. Bolivia is landlocked and is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, but Bolivia also is a linchpin country in the geopolitical stability of South America. Anyone who doubts that should consult a map of South America. Bolivia shares borders with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Paraguay. Whoever controls Bolivia politically can influence developments in neighboring countries.

Morales is receiving a great deal of political advice and support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and also from Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Bolivian military intelligence sources believe that Chavez is financing Morales and other radical leaders in Bolivia, and that foreign agents including alleged members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been infiltrated into Bolivia to help stir up unrest.

Bolivia is at a dead end, geopolitically. If Morales becomes president of Bolivia he will seek immediately to nationalize the oil and gas industry and other strategic sectors, align La Paz closely with Caracas and Havana, and shift the regional balance of power more sharply to the radical left. Certainly, under a Morales presidency the incipient bilateral dialogue between La Paz and Santiago de Chile over trade and – possibly – territorial issues would be suspended. Morales would also likely throw his government’s support behind radical groups in Peru, Brazil and Argentina. Like his friend and mentor Chavez is doing in Venezuela, it’s also likely that Morales would boot the United States out of Bolivia.

However, if Congress doesn’t elect Morales president, Bolivia’s political instability will increase even more rapidly. Morales won’t cease his attempts to win power by fair or foul means. Chavez and Castro can be counted on to give Morales all the support he needs, both openly and covertly. Morales is a key member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the Chavez-Castro regional political integration initiative that seeks to displace both the U.S.-centric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and the Brazil-centric Mercosur South American customs union. With moderate socialist governments in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, and the more-or-less leftist government of President Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Chavez and Castro definitely need a radical socialist government in Bolivia to consolidate the southern flank of the Bolivarian revolution. What does this mean for Bolivia? More political instability, and a growing risk of ethnic civil conflict and balkanization.

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